Saturday, 3 September 2016

A second vote on the EU: why not?

It’s not something to say too loud these days and, believe me, even I find it hard ever to express agreement with Tony Blair, but he’s right in what he says about the UK and Europe.

Certainly, if British voters change their mind, they have the right to a second vote. There’s nothing immoral or undemocratic about that. After all, the first vote was entirely negative: British voters opted to leave the EU, but they didn’t choose to go anywhere in particular. It’s one thing to decide you don’t like your job but, though some do it, it’s always struck me as a little imprudent to resign before you have a new one. How do you know it won’t be far worse?

The vote on 23 June was exactly like that. A small majority voted to leave the EU without expressing any preference on where to go next. That means that majority was made up of people with profoundly incompatible views about what they wanted to happen.

There are at least two major scenarios for what comes next, with many variations in detail between them.

The first is that we really, genuinely leave the EU. Completely. So that in our trade relations with the rest of the world – including the EU – we start from scratch, having to negotiate individual bilateral deals with no particular advantage as a starting point. A deal with China. A deal with the US. A deal with the EU. A deal with Ecuador, Bhutan, Burkina Faso. Our opening position is simply the rules of the World Trade Organisation, with no favourable arrangement with anyone in particular.

The second scenario is that we somehow manage to stay inside the Single Market. That means highly favourable trade terms with the EU – the same as we enjoy right now. That’s an option that comes with conditions, however. The most striking is that, unless Britain negotiates with consummate skill and the leaders of the other EU nations decide to be far more flexible than looks likely, we would have to accept freedom of movement of people and therefore unlimited rights for EU citizens to move here and work here.

The first of these options will, I suspect, look gloomy to a great many people who voted for Brexit. Britain will be paying for years, probably decades, for a decision to reset its trading relationships to zero.

As for the second, Theresa May as Prime Minister has made it clear that there can be no compromise over freedom of movement. By saying that, she endorses the xenophobia which, it’s becoming increasingly clear, was the main drive behind probably a large majority of the Leave voters: keep the foreigner out.

With the alternative to the EU clear, it’s possible the majority might crumble.

“You wanted out,” we’d in effect be saying, “but do you still that way if it means having to face the world alone and start making new deals with every single other nation, without the punch that either an Empire or EU membership gives?”

Or, alternatively, “You wanted out, but do you still feel happy with that arrangement if you have to accept the same terms as Norway, paying in the same contributions as we used to pay, with freedom of movement still in place, accepting all EU regulations but no longer having a voice over them?”

I wonder whether the majority would stand up faced with a stark realisation of what its choice really meant?

Good move on the anniversary of a declaration of war

Postscript It was good to see demonstrations taking place around Britain in favour of the EU, on 3 September – 77th anniversary of the declaration of war between Britain and Germany, for the second time in a generation, back in 1939. It’s worth remembering the depth of horror the EU was designed to avoid in the first place.


Anonymous said...

I guess why not is simple, it's the same as being on the loosing side in an election and stating that you don't agree with the result so it must be done again until everyone agrees with you. I always thought that the campaign was odd and divides people into two groups, optimists who favoured an new world and would vote leave and pessimists who feared the unknown and were scared of change. Why was it that the remain campaigne never spoke of the benefits of staying and where this would take the UK they only spoke of the impending doom that would strike the nation down if we left. People simply don't like that sort of treatment.

My guess is that if it were rerun now there would be an even stronger call to leave, I know the result was a total surprise to us all irrespective of which way you voted. However now there is a growing confidence and fighting spirit growing, Britain always derives strength from being trodden on. There are many parallels in the current Labour debacle. Courage will eventually triumph there also and the Corbyn cancer will be surgically removed.

David Beeson said...

I don't think the Leave side was the side of optimism. On the contrary, it was the negative camp, simply saying 'no' to the EU. Because that was all it said, it could pull together of wholly incompatible views to build a majority (and a small one) for just that one negative view.

Broadly speaking, there were two currents on the 'no' side: those who really wanted out of all EU institutions, come what may. That would mean leaving the single market too, as the only sure way of ending contributions to the EU and freedom of movement (see what I mean about negative? how can people who want to remove a freedom still deserve the term 'optimist'?) What those people haven't thought about is what it means to be reduced to simple World Trade Organisation terms. The G20 this weekend started to reveal what comes next: Japanese investment drying up, the US placing us at best third in the queue for trade negotiations (behind the EU and Asia-Pacific nations), poor relations with China and Russia. Bleak times ahead, in fact.

That seemed to be the approach Theresa May was adopting. What else could "Brexit means Brexit" mean? Except that faced with the reality, she now seems to be backpedaling. She won't rule out possible continued contributions to the EU, she's warning us that immigration control may not be possible. In fact, she may well be moving towards some kind of associate membership of the single market, where we'll get the worst of all possible worlds: still paying some contributions, still accepting some freedom of movement, sill respecting certain EU regulations, but with no say on any of them.

My suspicion is that when that becomes clear, there will be lots of people even within the Leave camp who'll be clamouring for a second referendum. They said 'no' to the EU, but now they're going to have to express a positive opinion - and do they really want to say 'yes' to either of these options?

David Beeson said...

On the Corbyn front, I think he'll be reelected. The issue for those of us in the Labour Party is whether we can resist the deselection battle that I fear will follow, and preserve a party to rebuild later. We'll certainly do all we can, but it's going to be a massive battle.

Anonymous said...

I must say I think pessimist was exactly the correct word if you read what you have just written as a response it perfectly endorses the classic view of a remain voter, fear. We will see what happens, l believe business and commerce will be where the answers lie and not with the politicians. If there is a profit to be made rest assured it will be made whatever any politicians might have to say or do. It used to be the Common Market a free trade association, prior to that the UK belonged to EFTA. Many simply want a trading agreement and no burocratic interference from an external meddling body, I can understand that.

As for Mr Corbyn he should leave Labour and lead his own Momentum party and let Labour get on with becoming a credible opposition with the objective of offering the UK balanced government.

David Beeson said...

My optimism is of a different kind.

I saw in the attempt by European nations to pull together, after centuries of repeated and often bloody division, a move that was immensely hopeful. Britain's decision to leave strikes me as evidence of lack of resolve, lack of guts to see a tough job through: things got difficult, so we pulled out. Not the spirit of 1940. But maybe Britain is noble in adversity only when conflict is involved.

The whole project Fear line was a disaster. Appalling politics by lazy politicians (I always thought of Cameron and Osborne of two of the laziest I've seen) who couldn't be bothered to put together an intelligent argument and instead resorted to trying to frighten the kids. I never believed any of that nonsense, which is why I react wryly to people telling me now, "look – nearly three months on and none of those things have happened."

Of course they haven't happened. We're not even out of the EU yet. And they weren't going to happen in a matter of a few weeks anyway: great economic changes take decades. There won't be a sudden disaster as a result of Brexit – that's just Cameron propaganda. What'll happen is that Britain will go back to the steady decline it experienced from the end of WW2 until the mid-nineties. What we'll find is that the brief opening of the country to its real role in the world, as an important but minor power and a major player in a greater Union, will proved to have been a blip. We'll go back to being what we were under Thatcher, a third-rate power trying to cling on to past glories, as we fade and become irrelevant. It won't be particularly unpleasant, just impoverished, limited and a little sad...

Anonymous said...

Oh well a sad and unmotivated view you have of your own nation. Maybe our future will be driven by those with more determination and enthusiasm. However it must be better to have self determination and independence, you have a great deal more faith in the fragmented Europe than I do, it just isn't a. United States of Europe for many many reasons. I would far rather live in a united commerce state than a squabbling political mess.

Anyway next subject is????

David Beeson said...

Not political at all, I'm afraid. Tomorrow's piece will be about 'The Bureau', which is the English title of the French TV series, 'Le Bureau des Légendes.' It's an extraordinary piece of work – certainly the best, in my view, to have come out of France for years, and one of the best anywhere. I don't know if you like Le Carré but I do, and this is a spy story worthy of him – indeed, it even has a couple of allusions to him...

Anonymous said...

A John day!